Archive for January 28, 2016

How the normalization of fat hate can prevent Eating Disorder recovery

Weight Stigma and Eating Disorder Recovery – How the normalization of fat hate can prevent Eating Disorder recovery

By Ragen Chastain
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“Every woman wants to be thinner!” So stated the opening sentence of an article (supposedly) about body positivity in a woman’s magazine in my dentist’s office.  The next sentence was “But that doesn’t mean you can’t love the body you have.”  Except for many of us, and especially for people dealing with eating disorders, that’s exactly what it means.

We live in a culture that undeniably values thin bodies over fat bodies.  The message that thin=pretty/healthy/morally good etc. is ubiquitous on magazines, billboards, television, and radio, in school hallways and corporate wellness programs. It can be seen in the way that we choose our actors, dancers, and singers based on their looks first and their talent second – so much so that we are shocked when someone who isn’t young, thin, and stereo-typically beautiful is talented.

Fat people who are happy with their lives, and achieving their goals, are often purposefully kept out of the limelight under the ridiculous claim that happy, successful fat people “promote obesity” (in much the same way, I suppose, that Mary Lou Retton “promotes shortness.”) This, in turn, creates a society with very little representation of fat people as anything other than miserable, unsuccessful, lonely, and self-loathing.

All of this adds up to a crushing pressure to be thin, and a normalization of fat hate.  We all know that these social issues can contribute to the development of eating disorders.  What we don’t always realize is that they can make it impossible to fully recover.

First, because it forces those in recovery to try to overcome body dysmorphia and a fear of being fat in a world where their belief that fat is a bad thing is reinforced almost everywhere they look, including healthcare professionals. At the same time that I was receiving treatment for an eating disorder, I was told by other doctors that I needed to lose weight.  One said “I mean, don’t go crazy like before, but you have a tendency to be bigger so watching your weight is something you’ll need to do for the rest of your life.” Yikes.

It’s difficult to believe that your recovery is the most important thing when the world is telling you that the most important thing, by far, is being thin by any means necessary. It’s difficult to let go of your fear of being fat if you can plainly see that you live in a culture where your fear is justified. It’s difficult to focus on your health and let your weight settle where it will, when billion dollar industries use every marketing trick in the book to convince you that manipulating your body size is an obligation. It’s difficult to build self-esteem when so many facets of society are trying to steal it, cheapen it, and sell it back to us at a profit.   When hating your body and being terrified of becoming fat is considered normal (“Every woman wants to be thinner!”) full eating disorder recovery can be impossible.

One stop-gap solution to this is to show people, including and especially those in eating disorder recovery, the errors and dangers of this way of thinking.  When we can help people opt-out of a culture of body hate and fat phobia, and appreciate the diversity of body sizes that exist, we can give them a chance at a complete recovery.  I often give a talk called “The World is Messed Up, You Are Fine” and it’s amazing to watch people’s faces show discovery and then anger as they realize that body hate is manufactured and sold aggressively to them for enormous profit, and then relief and hope as they begin to realize that they have other options besides hating their bodies.

The long-term solution to this is to create a world that celebrates body diversity and abhors body shaming of any kind.  We have to create a world where people are given the support and access they need to choose how to prioritize their health, and the path they choose to get there – where people focus on actual health goals instead of on trying to make themselves smaller, hoping that health will come along for the ride. We must create a world where attempting to manipulate our body size for “beauty,” health, or any other reason is recognized as the complete folly that it is.

If we truly want to help those affected by eating disorders, if we really want to offer people the chance of a full recovery, if we really want to eradicate eating disorders in the future, we must do more than work with eating disorders – we must become body positive activists. We must learn to identify and reject messages that contain weight-based stigma and fat shaming, we must stop confusing body size with health and beauty, and we must educate others to do the same. We live in a body negative world, a world that pulls people into eating disorders and traps them there for life. If we want better we must do better – we must not just be against eating disorders, but for a body positive world for people of all sizes.

Ragen Chastain is a Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be IRONMAN, Fat Person, Activist. She believes that basic respect and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not size dependent. She believes that it is impossible to tell somebody’s health based on their size.




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Anna Westin Act Virtual Lobby Day Delayed until Thursday, January 28

Delayed Anna Westin Virtual Action Day

The Media in Media Mondays

Mondays on The Emily Program Foundation blog are designated “Media Monday.” That means every week we post about something we find in the media that relates to eating disorders, disordered eating, or body image.  Why do we do this and why is it so important to post on a weekly basis?

The definition of media from Oxford Dictionary is: The main means of mass communication, regarded collectively. We communicate messages through the media, through the majority thought.

We live in a culture that is bombarded by the media at all points during the day. TV, radio, magazines, billboards, on screen, audio, print, pictures, and more.  We see on average up to 5,000 images a day. In a year we are exposed to up to 1,825,000 images, and by the time we are twenty-years old, we have seen up to 36.5 million images.

What do most of the media images we see look like? The thin, and now “fit” ideal. Flawless skin, perfect hair, and a thin, toned body. If communication of the masses runs through the media images we see, then it seems like the message being communicated is that the thin/fit ideal is the way the majority of people look.

Looking at a fashion magazine for just thirteen minutes decreases body image significantly. Turner and Hamilton’s study in 1997 showed there is a strong correlation between exposure to fashion magazines and women’s greater preoccupation with being thin, dissatisfaction with their bodies, frustration about weight, and fear about deviating from the thin standard. Media images impact the way we see ourselves.

It is important to be aware of the media exposure and the messages we get from it. One of the main characteristics of having an eating disorder is having negative body image. Living in a culture that exacerbates the idea “you are not good enough unless your body meets the thin/fit ideal,” can impact the development of eating disorders and prevent recovery from an eating disorder.

If we are aware that the media does influence our body image, we can step back from it and objectively see that some of it is not real. This is the purpose of “Media Monday.”


Turner, S. L., Hamilton, H., Jacobs, M., Angood, L. M., & Dwyer, 
D. H. (1997). The influence of fashion magazines on the body 
image satisfaction of college women: An exploratory analysis. 
Adolescence, 32(127), 603.

Yankelovich Company Study, 2004

January 26: Anna Westin Act Action Alert!

virtual lobby day jan 2016



The Words You Say * by guest blogger Martha Kate Stainsby

*Contributed by guest blogger Martha Kate StainsbyFacebook Icontwitter-bird-white-on-blue

I was two when I said I didn’t look pretty and meant it. I was three when I learned what a diet was and how to do it. I was five when I was called the word fat and it devastated me. I was nine when I noticed what the scale said and what those numbers really meant. I was ten when I was called skinny and it encouraged me that starving myself was okay. I was twelve when a boy commented on my physical appearance and it stayed with me. I was fifteen when I missed a state mandated fitness test because I was terrified to see the numbers on the scale and what the teacher would say. I was too young to learn and be impacted by those words, and yet it happened.

And the truth is it is happening to young girls and boys no matter how young they are and whether we want to admit it or not. We think they are too young to fully understand the impact of our words, too young to have these struggles, too young- they aren’t.

So today I want to take a moment to talk to those young girls and boys, the moms of young people, the teachers to these kids, and anyone who interacts with these growing children on a daily basis. Take notice of the youth, because they see the world in a manner that you can’t. They see the beauty and they see the pain. They are confused and trying to become the best individuals they can, so stop putting pressure on them to be the best. Encourage them, love them.

Today across the world, there are young girls and boys skipping lunch, running to the bathroom, literally running for miles, pouring over magazines, crying in the mirror, trying to fit into a certain perfect size jeans, writing in their diary because some boy told them they weren’t pretty. And it matters…they are not just simple words. Your words, their words, they matter and they hold more weight than you could ever realize. We have to start changing this and it starts with changing the conversation.

Stop telling them they are beautiful solely for their physical appearance. Tell them they are beautiful inside and out. Tell them they are important, their opinions matter, they are going to change the world. Their physical beauty is fleeting and could change in an instant, but their beautiful hearts are forever. Tell them they are loved for the unique individual they are. Tell them there is no one like them in the world, because it is true.

Moms, Dads, teachers, friends, family, mentors, young people, you have a chance to change the conversation and it starts today.

I hope today that you feel loved and tell others how loved they are for who they are on the inside, and not just on the outside because that is what matters. From a young lady who has fought harder than anyone should ever have to, to believe that deep down I matter- I promise changing the conversation is worth it.


martha kate stainsby

Martha Kate is an eating disorder survivor & advocate. She spends most of her time in Waco, Texas where she lives with her husband Brett and works with college students for the ministry RUF. MK loves people, diet coke, anything that sparkles, and a monogram on everything. Read her blog at